NIH Grant Funds Research on Inflammation and Vasculitis

According to University of Wisconsin News, UW-Madison professor David Beebe and his colleague Anna Huttenlocher, fellow UW professor, were awarded a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study inflammation and its relationship to a plethora of diseases and illnesses. Additionally, the team is going to try to model the rare disease vasculitis.

Vasculitis happens when the blood vessels get inflamed. This inflammation leads to many dangerous side effects on the vessels. For example, the vessels can get more narrow and therefore blood flow will become restricted, or the vessels can close altogether, resulting in tissue and organ damage. Aneurysms can also form as a result of vasculitis, and if these burst dangerous bleeding can happen within the body. Some symptoms of vasculitis include fever, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, ulcers in the mouth, and blood clots. The cause of vasculitis is unknown and treatments focus on stopping inflammation. To read more about the condition, click here.

The main purpose of the NIH grant will be directed towards studying chronic inflammation and the impact that it has on numerous diseases.

“It’s likely implicated in almost every disease,” said Beebe, professor of biomedical engineering. In the list of those affected, he includes autoimmune diseases, cancer, and cardiovascular conditions as well.

“But it’s been really difficult to study and we don’t know a lot about it,” he says. Beebe and Huttenlocher hope to use this funding to gather more information about it and therefore find more opportunities for treatment.

The awarded grant, as mentioned above, is a five-year, $3.7 million grant from NIH, which is a big deal. They are hoping to use this money to analyze the onset and resolve of inflammation. Hopefully, from the information they acquire, they will be able to spearhead the way for new targeted treatments and drugs.

To do this, the research will involve the study of neutrophils, which are the most common type of white blood cell in the body. Since white blood cells make up a huge part of the immune system, neutrophils also play a crucial role in defending the body from disease. Therefore, damage to the body’s neutrophils often leads to the chronic inflammation that is related to many diseases. This is what the researchers are trying to study.

“If we understand this process, then we can say, ‘Well, if we can tweak this part of the process, we could potentially stop inflammation,” said Beebe, who emphasized the importance of the innate immune system over the adaptive immune system. Neutrophils are part of the innate immune system.

The research was initially inspired by Huttenlocher’s lab research in 2006. The lab found that in zebrafish, neutrophils relocated from a blood vessel to a wound and then returned to the blood vessel. This was the first lab manifestation of what is now called “reverse migration.” Before this, it was believed that neutrophils simply died off after responding to the body’s immune system issue.

“Now we know this is a real phenomenon, but we don’t know much about the detailed biology of why neutrophils will return to the blood vessel,” said Beebe.

Expanding on this thought, Beebe continued, “This grant is all about developing a model on a benchtop, so that we can study that biology and actually replicate that phenomenon. And then by doing that in our little microsystem, we can watch it under a microscope, we can genetically modify things, we can understand exactly what is causing it.”

Last but not least, the two want to also try and model vasculitis, a rare disease that affects some of Huttenlocher’s patients. Through using induced pluripotent stem cells as well as the cellular technology CRISPR to reproduce the gene mutation, the leaders are attempting to be able to set the mold for future research.

They are hoping to be able to demonstrate how to adjust models to a particular set of patients. By doing this, they will be able to expand their knowledge and make more informed therapeutic decisions.

There are high hopes for this grant and the research it will provide.

“This is a very basic biology grant, but it really does have direct implications potentially to a lot of different diseases,” said Beebe.

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